1. Make your own food to save money. In most cases, not only are we paying for the raw materials used to create our food, but for packaging, transport, and several other hidden costs. Make your food at home and spend your money on the raw materials.
2. Make your own food because it’s better for you. When you make your food at home, you know exactly what goes into it from start to finish. There are no preservatives, no hidden fillers, no ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Even more, you can adjust recipes to meet your nutritional preferences and needs. Need less sugar or salt? You can adjust it. Less fat, or a different source of fat? You are in control of the recipe.
I don’t buy the claim that people can’t afford the time to prepare their own food at home. I think for most people, this is an excuse. They don’t know how to do it, don’t want to learn, and think it’s some huge, big, complicated thing. It’s not! I enjoy cooking, but I rarely cook anything complicated. For dinner last night, I steamed some fresh asparagus, which took about 15 or 20 minutes, from start to finish, and simultaneously steamed some yard eggs, which took 10 minutes. I had a little bit of leftover grilled chicken: 30 seconds in the microwave. If I had wanted some rice with that, it would have taken one minute to put in the pan, four minutes to bring to boiling, and 20 minutes to make. Point is, I could have had a balanced, delicious meal in 30 minutes, tops, with minimal work, and fed my whole family with that if they hadn’t already eaten.
I’ve given my brisket recipe to my readers before. It works with pot roast too. These are among the less expensive cuts of meat. It takes embarrassingly little effort. You just salt and pepper the roast or brisket, insert bacon strips into the meat, and rest it on a bed of thin-sliced onions. The only real labor is turning it over in the pot every half-hour or so, in a low oven. Food this easy to prepare should not be so delicious. Put a few potatoes and carrots into the pot about an hour before it’s ready, and you’re even more set.
I think most people who think they can’t cook cultivate a sense of learned helplessness in the kitchen. Again, in my house, we very rarely eat anything involving complex or time-consuming preparation. One thing we do to save time is on the weekends, when we have more time, we cook a lot of things to eat in the week ahead. I’ll grill extra meat, some of which we’ll freeze, and pull out of the freezer as we need. Sometimes I’ll cook a pot of beans, or soup, and freeze what we don’t eat. This morning I have a mess of mustard greens a neighbor gave me yesterday, sitting on the counter. I’ll cook them down with some andouille today, save enough to eat for a couple of days, and freeze the rest. Your freezer is your friend.
Seriously, this is not as hard as you might think. No time for fresh vegetables, or fresh vegetables are too expensive? Frozen vegetables today are a lot better than you might remember as a kid. I sometimes buy peas or green beans this way. You can boil them in chicken broth, or even just salted water, and they’re delicious.
Look, I don’t want to shame people into cooking more at home, but it’s really a lot easier than you may think. And it tastes so much better than fast food. Every now and then I’ll break down and get a hamburger at Sonic, because I love the way they taste — but they always make me feel bad physically. Once you get off the fast-food thing, and cut down significantly on processed foods, you may be surprised by how much better you feel. Do you know how easy it is to make your own salad dressing, with vinegar, olive oil, salt and (if you like) Dijon mustard? It takes no time, and it’s really good — much, much better than bottled salad dressings. Please, buy Mark Bittman’s basic recipe book — terrific for beginners — and try your hand. There’s no reason to be helpless in the kitchen. You’ll save money, eat better, and feel so much better about yourself.